DR. SYLVIA BAILEY SHURBUTT, COORDINATOR FOR APPALACHIAN STUDIES, SHEPHERD UNIVERSITY
“Stories matter. They matter now more than ever. This weekend West Virginia students had a chance elevate their voices and share their stories. It was not just wonderful, but for many of them—life changing.”
Earlier this month, Jessica Salfia, a teacher at Spring Mills High School in Martinsburg and a graduate from Shepherd’s MAT program received the Stephen L. Fisher Award for Excellence in Teaching, an Appalachian Studies Association K-12 National Teaching Award. Salfia, who was also a Berkeley County Teacher of the Year, received the award for her work introducing into the English Language Arts curriculum Appalachian Literature.
Salfia’s students were asked to present the ASA Conference Plenary, “If You Ask Us,” the first time the Appalachian Studies Association has done such a program in lieu of a plenary speaker. The point of featuring Appalachian youth in the plenary was to address the many social and economic problems of the region and to give kids the opportunity to share their ideas about how to bring prosperity back to the region.
Salfia and her students also presented a pedagogy session at the conference that explored the importance of Appalachian literature and history in their classes. Seeing images of themselves in literature has not only improved her students’ success in their course and in their school work in general, but many of these high-achieving students have expressed their desire to return to the state after their college education is completed, in order to make a contribution to West Virginia’s flagging economy.
Salfia recognized Shepherd University and the Appalachian Studies Program in her acceptance speech. Shepherd University’s Appalachian Heritage Writers-in-Residence program has proven to be essential to her students, and to elevating the stories of Appalachia.
WV Humanities Council Director Ken Sullivan told Dr. Sylvia Shurbutt, who coordinates Shepherd’s Appalachian Studies Program, “The plenary session with Jessica’s students was one of the most important events at the conference.” We need more West Virginia students to tell their stories and become involved in the economic and political life of the State.
The Hub is hosting New Story, an event for storytellers and changemakers like these!
New Story takes place May 31-June 1 in Lewisburg. Visit www.wvhubnewstory.com for more information and to register.